Women and Equalities Committee: Our experience

On Wednesday 23 March 2022, two members of our network, Olivia and Tee, attended Parliament to watch evidence presented to the Women and Equalities Committee on how the UK asylum process is unequal for women. In this Q&A blog, Olivia and Tee share their responses and feelings about the evidence session.

Our Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Priscilla Dudhia, gave evidence alongside Roxana and Annie (Ambassadors for the VOICES Network), Pip McKnight (Head of Policy and Advocacy at Refugee Women Connect) and Kathryn Cronin (Barrister at Garden Court Chambers). You can watch the evidence session here.


As women who have been through the asylum process yourselves, how did you find going to Parliament to watch the Women and Equalities Committee evidence session on inequality in the asylum process?

Tee: “Going to Parliament to watch the Women and Equalities Committee gave me the privilege to understand more. It helped me understand that the issues affecting me are also affecting children.”

Olivia: “Going to watch this evidence session was very important to me. I was looking forward to listening and learning in a space that was specifically for discussing the issues that women face when they seek asylum. There are many issues that women face that have not been addressed. In the asylum process, women are silenced. Even Priti Patel has said ‘Where are the women and girls?’ But we are here. It is the asylum process that makes us seem invisible. I wanted to listen to MPs as policymakers and hear how they related to our stories. Do they understand what is happening to us? Do they understand how their policies work?”

 

How did you feel hearing Roxana and Annie's testimonies?

Tee: “It was unbelievable to hear Roxana and Annie’s testimonies. I was listening and melting inside. They have gone through thick and thin, including Annie’s 13-year-old child. We heard how they were moved from house to house at such short notice, to the extent of not having time to gather their clothes. Imagine sleeping rough with only a coat on the floor. Annie’s child was stopped from going to school because of being moved all the time. I thought of the trauma that the child was going through, seeing her mother with tears all the time. Where is the respect as a person?

When you apply for asylum you think you will be protected. I felt so sad when I heard about the lack of privacy in their accommodation. Roxana told a story about how a man in her accommodation had put a camera in the toilet and was uploading the videos to the internet. I felt scared myself. What about her? What about other people in the accommodation? They came here for protection. They came for safety.

How can this be stopped? How can we be loved like anyone else? All I can say is, ‘Thank you, Ministers.’ Thank you everyone who was there. People keep on helping us, please keep trying. Please don’t give up.”

Olivia: “Those testimonies were powerful. They were personal, individual experiences. They were really brave to be able to stand and reach that stage. They were prepared. If more people going through the system were supported like that to prepare then they would be ready to sit and voice their experiences knowing that they will not be disbelieved. If you are prepared you go with more confidence. I hope that Annie and Roxana will inspire other women to have the courage and confidence to use their voices to call for change!

You could read the room – everyone was quiet. There were tears. The Chair, Caroline Nokes, gave them time to speak and listened to them. The Committee really wanted to hear from them and this is really important. Now they have this information, I keep asking myself do they have the power to take this information and use it to change the system? It was the third evidence session and there will be more sessions. The MPs will see that the asylum process is damaging people’s lives.

I was concerned that there wasn’t a chance to talk about the Nationality and Borders Bill because they ran out of time. The asylum process is already crushing people, but with this Bill it will kill them.”

 

Priscilla argued that the Home Office needs to end its culture of disbelief. Why is that so important?

Olivia: “This culture of disbelief is one of the worst parts of the asylum process. We tell our stories and are called liars. It comes from a total lack of respect for us as human beings. MPs need to know how it dehumanises us, how it harms our mental health.

The people conducting asylum interviews should come from a background of trauma-informed experience so that they understand the state of mind of the people they are interviewing. It was suggested that a psychologist could carry out the interviews. I like this idea.

We also need decision-makers to act in a way that is gender-sensitive. We are lucky that we are with Women for Refugee Women, and the same goes for women with Refugee Women Connect, because they are organisations that are sensitive to women’s issues. The Home Office is for everyone, but there are steps it could take to support women through the process and understand their experiences. Women should be interviewed by women.

It worried me to hear that the Home Office has targets for denying people asylum. It is like the Home Office is looking for reasons to disqualify you from protection. A culture that puts pressure on staff to disbelieve us means that those people making decisions on our cases cannot do a proper job. Kathryn Cronin mentioned that she had heard of the Home Office rewarding staff with vouchers for reaching refusal targets. To me, that shows so clearly that there is a culture for refusing people.

That culture has to change and start at the top. Not many people who are refugees are involved in shaping Home Office policies. If people with lived experience of the asylum process could be heard in that space, things would be different. There would be more understanding. If you know how it feels yourself, then you will act differently."

Tee: “I agree that people with lived experience of the asylum process need to be heard by the Home Office. You can tell that these policies haven’t been designed by people who know how it feels to have to claim asylum. They do not put themselves in our shoes. The process hurts us, it reminds you of the trauma you went through. They are damaging people’s health and brains. By the time you get your papers, you are not yourself, you do not have the confidence anymore There is no trust when we tell our stories, they call you a liar. You cannot open up after being called a liar, you leave some things within you because you don’t feel safe to share them.

I was struck by what Annie said about being interviewed by a 26-year-old man who was so rude to her. How could I be expected to tell an arrogant man who is young enough to be my child about the trauma and rape I went through? I would tell my story in a different way because I can’t tell it to him, and then I would be punished for that.

I think it is an important recommendation to involve us in the design of the asylum process. I hope that MPs will hear that message because we do have a lot of answers about how to improve the system. We have already suffered enough.”

 

Do you have a message for the MPs in the Women and Equalities Committee?

Tee: “Please keep on fighting for every woman who has to seek asylum. Keep listening to our voices. Give us time. Hear our voices when we are talking. Feel our stories and the pain that we have inside. Please don’t give up.

It is very important to engage with people with lived experience. Our stories are real, they are not from a book. At times I felt that the MPs were surprised by what they heard, but if they listened to us they would already know. It was a shock to them because they haven’t been through it. The asylum process is another trauma for us.

I invite them to join me at court or when I go to report because I want them to see how it feels, I want them to see what we go through as women.”

Olivia: “If you care about women, please look at all this evidence, all these testimonies. Please use this to help to fight the Nationality and Borders Bill. Please be the voice for women in your parties and convince more people that the Bill is harmful.

I am so glad that the Committee decided to launch this enquiry because this system is designed to crush women. What I really want to see now is change. We have the information on how the asylum process needs to be improved, and we want to see monitoring and action on this. We want to see results.”


Women for Refugee Women and ILPA: Joint Briefings on the Amendments to Clauses 31 and 32 of the Nationality and Borders Bill

Women for Refugee Women and ILPA have prepared joint briefings on the Amendments to Clauses 31 and 32 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, both of which will seriously harm women and survivors of gender-based violence seeking safety in the UK.

Clause 31

Women for Refugee Women and ILPA have prepared a joint briefing on Amendment to Clause 31 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, supported by 27 organisations which have significant expertise in working with people seeking asylum in the UK.

We are seriously concerned that the Government's proposed test will result in protection wrongly being denied to people at genuine risk of persecution.

Clause 31 introduces a higher two-part test for determining whether an asylum claimant has a 'well-founded fear' of being persecuted and should therefore be entitled to refugee protection in the UK.

In summary, the proposed test:

  • Imposes an even higher hurdle for asylum claimants to overcome and will result in people wrongly being denied refugee protection in the UK
  • Disproportionately affects particularly vulnerable groups
  • Contravenes international obligations
  • Will cause confusion in decision making, resulting in an increased number of appeals, and increased costs and delays in an already back-logged asylum system

Clause 32

Women for Refugee Women and ILPA have prepared a joint briefing on Amendment to Clause 32 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, supported by over 40 organisations across the End Violence Against Women and Girls and the anti-trafficking sectors.

We are especially concerned about the change in Clause 32 to the definition of 'particular social group'. This change will result in protection being wrongly denied to women at genuine risk of persecution. 

Clause 32 is a serious concern. In summary, the proposed definition:

  • Imposes an additional hurdle for survivors of gender-based violence, and other vulnerable persons, to overcome, and will result in people being wrongly denied protection
  • Disproportionately affects women and girls who rely on the ground of 'particular social group' when claiming asylum
  • Contravenes UNHCR standards
  • Reverses UK case law

We strongly urge members of the House of Lords to vote for the amendment tabled by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester to Clause 32, supported by Baroness Lister of Burtesett.

The amendment would maintain the approach to 'particular social group' and would be in keeping with the Government's commitment to tackling violence against women.

For further information, or case studies:
Priscilla Dudhia, priscilla@refugeewomen.co.uk

 


Legal Opinion: The Nationality and Borders Bill will harm women

The legal opinion of Stephanie Harrison QC and barristers Ubah Dirie, Emma Fitzsimons and Hannah Lynes of Garden Court Chambers is that the Nationality and Borders Bill will "disproportionately adversely disadvantage women and girls". In advice prepared for the charity Women for Refugee Women and published today, the barristers state that a number of measures within the Bill are incompatible with Home Office policy, UK case law and international standards on refugee protection and human rights, and therefore open to legal challenge.

Their legal opinion concludes: “It is clear that the Bill will have multiple adverse impacts and create additional obstacles to women and girls seeking international protection in the UK. These measures individually and cumulatively increase the risk of claims being wrongly rejected and the UK acting in breach of the Refugee and/or Human Rights Convention.”

Particular concerns over how the Bill will disproportionately harm women raised within the legal opinion and by charities supporting survivors of abuse include but are not limited to the following:

  • Clause 11 enables the Home Office to offer different levels of protection to refugees based on how they traveled to the UK and when they claimed asylum. This Clause flies in the face of long-standing evidence about how difficult it is for women to disclose histories of violence and trauma, as recognised in existing Home Office policy.
    • Stephanie Harrison QC states that this Clause is “highly legally controversial” and “raises stark issues in terms of the freedom from discrimination”.
  • Clause 32 changes how ‘particular social group’ is interpreted within the Refugee Convention. As gender is not listed as a reason for persecution in the definition, many survivors of gender-based violence rely on the ‘particular social group’ ground in their asylum claims. The change will mean that more women are wrongly refused asylum and forced into further danger.
    • Stephanie Harrison QC states that this Clause is “an unexplained regressive step which will disproportionately impact women and girls seeking asylum on the basis of specific forms of gender persecution.”
  • Clause 31 introduces a heightened and confusing test for establishing whether a person seeking asylum has a  well-founded fear of persecution, and therefore requires protection in the UK. 
    • Stephanie Harrison QC states that, together with Clause 32, “[T]hese changes reverse longstanding principles and are a clear attempt to reinstate approaches which have been repeatedly and roundly rejected by the courts. This change will, in our view, significantly worsen asylum decision-making, and will have a disproportionate impact on asylum-seeking women and girls.”
  • Clause 26 will reintroduce a ‘fast-track’ asylum appeals process for people in detention, meaning that the complexities of appeals are not adequately considered. The previous process like this, ‘Detained Fast Track’, was ruled unlawful and abolished by the government. It will increase the number of women seeking asylum who are wrongly refused asylum and returned to countries where they face persecution.
    • Stephanie Harrison QC states that this Clause is “deeply retrograde step” and that “these accelerated procedures will be operated in breach of [the European Convention on Human Rights] as far as women subject to it are concerned.”

Stephanie Harrison QC of Garden Court Chambers says:

‘‘There is no doubt that the wide ranging measures contained in this Bill will fundamentally undermine the UK’s obligations under international refugee and human rights law. Reversing long established principles of law and protection for those fleeing war, conflict and persecution will not fix the broken system. It will dismantle it - leaving many facing return to death, torture and ill-treatment as well as protracted delays and uncertainty as the Courts try to grapple with the implications of these draconian and discriminatory measures. Many of those most at risk will be highly vulnerable women and girls escaping gender and sexual violence, and human trafficking. 

It beggars belief that the government should be so intent on removing legal protections for women and girls seeking asylum in the UK at a time when the world looks on in horror at the return of systemic persecution and exclusion of women and girls in Afghanistan and human trafficking including for sexual exploitation and slavery remains a major international concern.’’   

‘Anna’, who sought asylum in the UK after fleeing persecution on the basis of her sexuality in Cameroon (where homosexuality is illegal), says:

“I came to the UK because I was raped, beaten and locked up in my country because of my sexuality. When I arrived, I didn’t know where to go or what to do and I had never heard of asylum. I thought I was coming to a country where I would be accepted for who I am but that was not the case.

Being a refugee in a new country, you don’t trust people easily, especially if you have been through so much hatred, so much abuse. It took me a while to trust people who told me about the asylum process. When I applied, it was a very long journey of stress and struggle. The Home Office said they didn’t believe my story and refused my asylum claim. I was depressed and had nowhere to go for support. I had to sleep on the bus and the only way to survive was to have sex to get food. It was traumatic and degrading.

Eventually though, after all this needless suffering, I submitted a fresh asylum claim and this time they believed me. Now I have refugee status, I can choose what I want to do. I have started an online business and I’m studying to become a psychologist.

With this Bill, the Home Office might as well be ending the asylum process altogether. Women like me will be punished and won’t get the support they need. Priti Patel is making a system that is already so traumatic for women even worse.”

Alphonsine Kabagabo, director of Women for Refugee Women, says:

“I know how it feels to have to leave your home to save your life and to start again in an unfamiliar country. When I had to flee the genocide in Rwanda with my baby daughter, we were supported to be in charge of our own destinies like any other human beings, and that is the kind of welcome I want refugees arriving today to receive.

Instead, the Nationality and Borders Bill is a deliberate attempt by Priti Patel to punish people who are seeking safety. It will discriminate against women seeking asylum who have survived rape, FGM, trafficking into sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and other gendered violence. Ultimately, this cruel Bill will force survivors of violence into further danger.

I ask myself daily, where is this government’s humanity and compassion? I want to live in a society where all women are treated equally and can thrive. I urge the Government to scrap this dangerous Bill and listen to women who have been forced to the margins in order to build a better, kinder approach to refugee protection.” 


Women for Refugee Women submits evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee on 'Equality and the UK asylum process'

Women for Refugee Women (WRW) has submitted evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee on how the UK asylum process harms women. A full list of written evidence submitted to the Committee is available here.

Summary of Women for Refugee Women's submission:

  • WRW’s research indicates that a high proportion of women seeking asylum in the UK have experienced gendered persecution in their countries of origin.
  • However, the UK’s asylum system does not help and support these survivors of gender-based violence. Rather, it actively harms and retraumatises them.
  • Women’s asylum claims are often wrongly refused. This can be because of difficulties in evidencing the persecution they have experienced, as well as poor legal representation. Most significantly it is because of the Home Office’s ‘culture of disbelief', which means women’s experiences of persecution are routinely dismissed by decision-makers.
  • When women’s asylum claims are refused they may be made destitute, which exposes them to further gendered violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence.
  • Women who have been refused asylum can also be locked up indefinitely in immigration detention, which has a devastating impact on their mental health.

Instead of addressing the harms of the current asylum system, the government appears determined to make them even worse, through a number of worrying measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill which is currently going through Parliament.

Recommendations

Instead of aggravating the harms of the current asylum system for women, as it is doing through the Nationality and Borders Bill, there are a number of key ways in which the government could ensure that the UK’s asylum system provides women with help and support:

  • By ensuring that there is a culture of protection at the core of the asylum system, rather than one of disbelief;
  • By ensuring access to quality legal representation at all stages of the asylum process;
  • By ensuring specialist mental health support;
  • By ending the policy of enforced destitution;
  • By ending the use of immigration detention.


#RefugeesWelcome Rally

On Wednesday 20th October 2021, we joined hundreds of people and other fantastic organisations at Parliament Square in London to resist the #AntiRefugeeBill and to say #RefugeesWelcome!

Here's our favourite selection of photographs which capture the uplifting spirit of solidarity, compassion and togetherness felt on the day. Thank you to all who joined us!

Credit: @luketapley
Credit: @luketapley
Credit: @luketapley
Credit: @luketapley
Credit: Natasa Leoni. Photo of Rainbow Sisters
Credit: Natasa Leoni. Photo of Rainbow Sisters
Credit: Natasa Leoni. Photo of Mariam Yusuf

I am speaking at the rally because who can say it better than a person living the experience. The hostile environment has a negative impact on people seeking asylum, we are experiencing destitution, no access to basic needs. The system is already hard, and the government is going to make it even harder with the new Nationality and Borders Bill which is moving closer to becoming law. This bill will make it much harder for people to seek safety in the UK. For women the bill will put them in further danger of exploitation, violence and abuse.

Lord Alf Dubs with Jade, Olivia and Mariam
Our Director, Alphonsine Kabagabo

I am speaking today not only as the Director of WRW, an organisation that supports women seeking asylum in UK, to have a voice and rebuild their lives with respect and dignity, but also as a survivor of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. I know how it feels to flee your country in the middle of a war/ genocide and how it feels when you reach a safe country and you are able to rebuild your life!

We must stand up for refugees and people seeking asylum and I’m glad that you have joined us today to challenge this new bill and to shout loudly that refugees should be warmly welcomed.

Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!

Members of our London grassroots network
Disbelieved, detained, deported: Asylum for LGBT+ refugees!
Rainbow Sisters
Rainbow Sisters
MPs Paul Blomfield, Kate Osamor and Florence Eshalomi
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Marchu Girma, Hibiscus

Marchu Girma, CEO of Hibiscus Initiatives started her speech by reading a powerful letter from women who are currently being held in immigration detention. "Every day I cry. I've felt this way in the past - it was when I was abused. I miss freedom. I wish I was completely free."

Mariam Yusuf
Olivia and Mariam
Olivia Namutebi
Rainbow Sisters
Sarah Navaa performing
Sarah Navaa
Women With Hope
Speaker Zahra Joya (left)

 

Please continue to stand with us as we resist the harmful #AntiRefugeeBill which will disproportionately affect women and unfairly punish them for factors outside of their control.

We believe that every woman who crosses borders for her safety deserves a fair hearing and the chance to rebuild her life. We hope you do too.

Stand with us and take action!

  • Write to your MP and ask them to stand up for women seeking safety in the UK using this easy and quick template
  • Donate to support our work with refugee and asylum-seeking women

Women for Refugee Women provide briefings for MPs on the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee

Women for Refugee Women has prepared briefings for MPs examining the Nationality and Borders Bill, detailing how specific clauses of the Bill will harm women who are seeking safety in the UK.

Clauses 10, 16, 17 and 23: Differential treatment based on mode of arrival and timescale of protection claim

These clauses, if enacted, are likely to punish women who have survived gender-based violence and are unable, through no fault of their own, to disclose their experiences right away.

Women already face significant barriers to the full investigation and recognition of their protection claims. These clauses will only worsen those obstacles.

Download the briefing

 

Clauses 11, 24, and 26: Detention and quasi-detention

These clauses provide for increased use of harmful detention and quasi-detention settings, including offshore detention facilities and large-scale asylum accommodation centres. Clause 24 would also introduce an accelerated appeals procedure for people in detention, which will likely have a harmful impact on survivors of gender-based abuse.

Download the briefing

 

Clauses 29 and 30: Changes to the refugee test

We are very concerned that Clause 29 is likely to have a disproportionate impact on asylum-seeking women who have fled sexual and gender-based violence, and particularly when combined with the changes to the ‘particular social group’ definition in Clause 30. These changes would make it even harder for women who have survived gender-based violence to have their claims properly investigated and recognised.

Download the briefing

 

Clauses 46, 47 & 51: Victims of trafficking

We have real concerns that these changes will make it harder for women and girls, who are victims of trafficking and modern slavery, to be identified and protected.

Download the briefing


Women for Refugee Women give evidence in Parliament on how the Borders Bill will harm women

On 23 September 2021, Women for Refugee Women's director, Alphonsine Kabagabo, and Research and Advocacy Coordinator, Priscilla Dudhia, gave evidence to the Nationality and Borders Bill committee, a group of MPs who are currently examining the proposed legislation.

The proposed Borders Bill would harm women who are seeking asylum in the UK, by punishing them and making it harder for them to be granted refugee protection.

Alphonsine opened our evidence, explaining:

"A lot of women in our network have survived gender-based violence. They have been traumatised through being raped, being forced into marriage, being forced into sexual exploitation or through FGM. This Bill makes it even harder for those victims to access safety."

The Bill will punish women who are forced to take 'irregular' routes to get to the UK, or who are not able to claim asylum 'without delay'

The Bill proposes to offer different levels of security to refugees based on how people travel and when they claim asylum.

People fleeing danger don’t usually have a choice about how they travel – they need to take whichever route to safety they can. But under the Bill refugees who are forced to take ‘irregular’ routes, including by boat or lorry, will not be allowed to stay in the UK permanently, or reunite with their loved ones.  Alphonsine shared her own experience:

Priscilla highlighted that safe and legal resettlement routes are by far the best way of enabling people to reach the UK safely, and that these routes should be made available to more women:

The way to deter [traffickers and smugglers] is to create more safe and legal routes—to expand the global resettlement scheme; to set a number; to prioritise women who have survived sexual and gender-based violence; to expand family reunification laws, but is also to look towards other routes. We strongly urge the Government to explore humanitarian visas. Right now, there is no asylum visa. We think that all that would minimise the risk of people taking dangerous journeys.

However, not everyone would be able to access these routes. It is vital that the government does not shut the door on women who are forced to travel in other ways:

The Bill also distinguishes between refugees based on when they claim asylum, and punishes those who have not claimed asylum soon after arriving in the UK. Priscilla explained why it may not be possible for women to claim asylum immediately:

"There are situations in which women might not be able to claim asylum at the earliest opportunity. For instance, many of the women to whom we have spoken in our network had no idea that they could claim refugee protection on the basis of the gender-based violence that they have faced. There are other women who have fled violence and did not intend to stay in the UK for a long time—who came here on a visa, wanting to escape persecution but with the intention of going back—but later discovered that, 'Actually, no, there is a grave threat to my safety still, and I need to stay.'”

In order to give an example, Priscilla shared the story of our colleague Agnes Tanoh:

"I would like briefly to share the story of one such woman, called Agnes, who is a refugee from a west African country. Agnes fled political persecution. She fled her country—she was in danger—and eventually decided to go to the UK, where her daughter was studying. She was the only family member that she could be with. She wanted to return, but once she was here she realised that political opponents were still being targeted. A lady for whom Agnes was working as an assistant was in prison at the time when Agnes was in the UK, and she realised that it was not safe for her to go back.

Agnes said that she was expecting to go back home quickly, but she could not: “When I realised my visa was going to expire, I went to Croydon to ask what to do to apply for asylum, and that is what I did.” Unfortunately for Agnes, she was locked up in detention, which she found hugely traumatising given her previous experience of incarceration. Her claim was refused at the initial stage and on appeal, and she had to lodge a fresh claim. Today Agnes has refugee status and we are immensely honoured to say that she is part of our team at Women for Refugee Women, where she works as a detention campaign spokesperson. I say all this to highlight that there may be legitimate reasons why vulnerable women are not able to claim right away, and we do not think that it is acceptable to be punishing them."

It is wrong to differentiate between refugees based on their mode of arrival or when they apply for asylum.

The Bill will punish women who are not able to open up about their traumatic experiences immediately

The Bill will require traumatised women to give all the reasons for their asylum claim immediately – and if they do not their credibility will be questioned. Alphonsine explained why this part of the Bill is particularly harmful to women who have survived rape, torture, trafficking and other extreme violence:

Priscilla went on to explain how this part of the Bill is turning back the clock on Home Office guidance that was introduced to correct for disadvantages that women face when claiming asylum:

"Those issues are well acknowledged in Home Office policy. [The Gender Issues in the Asylum Claim guidance] talks about the barriers that feelings of shame and guilt can create, the stigma that comes with sexual violence and the fear that some women might have of reprisals from community and family members. That same guidance goes on to say that late disclosure should not automatically prejudice a woman’s credibility. In [the Bill], we have a direct contravention of that acknowledgement of the very real challenges that women who have fled gender-based violence face in sharing their experiences."

It is wrong to punish refugees who are unable to disclose all of their experiences immediately, because of the trauma they have faced. This provision would mean that more women would be wrongly refused refugee protection and put at risk of further danger.

The Bill does not recognise the humanity of people who seek protection in the UK

Alphonsine reminded the MPs that this Bill is dealing with the lives of human beings. Refugees are people who want to be safe and rebuild their lives.

The Nationality and Borders Bill has been designed to punish, not protect. We hope that MPs and policymakers will listen to the evidence that Alphonsine and Priscilla provided, and to the many refugee and asylum-seeking women in our network, to build an asylum process founded on humanity.

You can watch the evidence session in full, including powerful evidence given by Lisa Doyle at the Refugee Council and Mariam Kemple-Hardy at Refugee Action, here. For further information, you can read our full written evidence submission here.

TAKE ACTION

Now, more than ever, we must stand in solidarity with our refugee sisters and defend the right to asylum!

Join us on Wednesday 20 October, 4.30-6.30pm, for the Refugees Welcome rally at Parliament Square, London.


Women for Refugee Women submits evidence to the Borders Bill committee

Women for Refugee Women has submitted written evidence to the Parliamentary committee examining the Nationality and Borders Bill on the harms that the proposed legislation would cause women seeking safety in the UK.

Women for Refugee Women is deeply concerned about the particular harm that the Nationality and Borders Bill will have on women seeking asylum because of their specific vulnerabilities and their particular experiences of violence. Our research has documented how many women seeking asylum in the UK have fled gender-based violence in their countries of origin – including rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, forced sexual exploitation, and FGM.

Women already struggle to get protection from the UK’s asylum system. Women and men who seek asylum face a culture of disbelief at the Home Office, whose unfair and irrational decision-making is well documented. But women are disadvantaged further because of the inadequate understanding among some Home Office decision-makers of gender-based violence. In addition, women who have experienced sexual violence or exploitation often face severe challenges in disclosing their stories.

When women are wrongly refused asylum they are generally forced into destitution, which has devastating impacts on their safety. Our recent research found that a third of women who had been raped or sexually abused in their country of origin were then raped again or subjected to further sexual violence in the UK after becoming destitute. Women who are refused protection also become liable to immigration detention. Being locked up in detention is highly traumatising for already vulnerable women.

The Nationality and Borders Bill will make it even harder for women to be recognised as refugees and live in safety in the UK. We believe that a number of the proposed measures will have a disproportionate impact on women, as a result of the particular nature of their asylum claims.

To date there has not been a genuine attempt by the government to listen to women who have been forced to cross borders for safety. The consultation on the New Plan for Immigration, a 52-page document, was open for only six weeks, and the format of that process made it impossible for many women in our networks to respond.

In its Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, published shortly after the Nationality and Borders Bill was introduced to Parliament, the government recognised the ‘devastating impact’ of gender-based violence on women and insisted: ‘We want to ensure that victims and survivors can be confident they will get the support they deserve’. At the same time, the government has committed to a foreign policy that ‘consciously and consistently delivers gender equality’.  Yet, the provisions in the Nationality and Borders Bill undermine such claims.

Rather than providing asylum-seeking women who have fled gender-based violence with safety and support, the Bill will actively harm and retraumatise them.


5 ways the Nationality and Borders Bill threatens women

The government is currently trying to push through legislation that will prevent women from getting refugee status in the UK. As one refugee woman, 'Sara', put it: “They might as well be ending the asylum system completely.”

The Bill will put even more women, who have fled persecution, in further danger of violence, abuse and exploitation. Instead of offering sanctuary to women who have been forced to leave their homes and cross borders, the government is drawing up a law that actively causes harm to them. Now more than ever, we must speak up alongside our refugee sisters.

The Bill is currently being examined by a small group of MPs. On Thursday, our director Alphonsine Kabagabo and our policy and advocacy coordinator Priscilla Dudhia will give oral evidence to these MPs, explaining how this Bill threatens the safety of the women.

Five ways the Nationality and Borders Bill threatens women:

1. Women who are desperate for safety will be punished.

People fleeing danger don’t usually have a choice about how they travel – they need to take whichever route to safety they can. But under the Bill refugees who are forced to take 'irregular' routes, including by boat or lorry, will not be allowed to stay in the UK permanently, or reunite with their loved ones.   

2. Women will be denied a fair hearing.

Many women need mental health support, proper legal advice and to feel safe before they can open up about the violence and abuse they have fled. Yet the Bill will require traumatised women to give all the reasons for their asylum claim immediately – and if they do not their credibility will be questioned.

3. Principles vital for women’s protection will be eroded.

The Bill changes the test for deciding if someone is a refugee, making it even harder to satisfy. Since gender isn’t listed in the Refugee Convention, many women also have to prove that the persecution they have faced makes them a member of a ‘particular social group’ – yet the Bill introduces an additional hurdle to women being recognised as refugees in this way. 

4. More women will be locked up in detention centres.

The Bill will allow the government to set up ‘offshore’ detention facilities outside of the UK, where women could be locked up while their asylum claims are processed. Women in offshore detention are at risk of sexual violence and abuse. The Bill will also reintroduce a ‘fast-track’ asylum appeals process for people in detention – even though the previous process like this was ruled unlawful, and abolished by the government. 

5. More women who have been trafficked or trapped in modern slavery will seriously struggle to access safety.

The Bill raises the test for being recognised as a trafficking victim, making it more difficult for them to get protection. It also forces victims to disclose information about their exploitation by a certain deadline – or they may be deemed untrustworthy and refused help. Yet it can take months, sometimes years, for a woman who has been forced into sexual or other exploitation to talk about the abuse she has suffered. 


For more information and to help us spread the word about how this Bill will harm women, please read and share our short explainer:

TAKE ACTION:

Please join us on 20 October 2021, at the Refugees Welcome rally in London, to hear from refugees and to show your solidarity. We’ll be gathering from 4.30-6.30pm outside Parliament.